Periodically, I use this space to respond to questions I have received via email or during programs. My intent in sharing both questions and answers is to provide insight into the college-going process and stimulate conversation that leads to informed decision-making with regard to educational futures. As always, your comments are very much valued. To submit a question, contact me directly at Peter@TheAdmissionGame.com.
Can you offer any tips on the FAFSA since it is now time to complete the application?
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) must be completed by any family that hopes to receive need-based financial aid. The information requested on the form will be for the student and the custodial parent(s) from the 2012 tax year. If you have not completed your IRS tax filing for the year, you can provide estimates based on your 2011 IRS filing. Regardless, all information provided will be verified against your subsequent IRS tax return for 2012. Simply answer the questions to the best of your ability.
The federal government processes the completed application and then sends you a Student Aid Report (SAR) indicating your student’s eligibility for federal funding or, conversely, your “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC). All state universities will use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for state funding as well. Be attentive to their deadlines for submission.
Most private colleges will also require you to complete the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile to determine your EFC with the context of monies they might award. The result of the Profile application will be sent directly to the institution so you are not likely to see that information unless you ask the college to reveal it to you. Should you have questions about the outcomes of either the FAFSA or Profile, contact the financial aid office at the college(s) of interest.
Seven Easy Steps to Completing the FAFSA is an online tutorial that walks you through the FAFSA and answers some of the technical questions you might have in completing the form.
Do I still need to repeat the FAFSA process with the same school for my child who is now planning for her second year at that school? I was hoping I would only have to do this once. Does it have to be done every year?
The FAFSA is the veritable key that unlocks need-based funding possibilities. The filing must be completed annually in order to establish eligibility for need-based assistance from the government, both federal and state, as well as the institution.
Can you offer any suggestions for prep courses for SAT, ACT and general good test taking skills?
While there are a lot of test options for you to consider, I recommend ePrep. It’s an online program that is educationally based and has shown great results. Both my niece and my nephew have found substantial score increases and the former still talks excitedly about how she is constantly referring to ePrep as a general study aid. You can get a discounted rate on selected ePrep courses by visiting www.eprep.com/redeem and entering the following voucher code: TAGPREPFORSUCCESS01
My son took the ACT in December and earned a 34! Prior to taking the ACT we were thinking he would take both the SAT and ACT. However, since he scored so well on the ACT we are now thinking that he would just stop there, be done with the rat race of test taking, and just focus on doing well in the classroom. Is there any compelling reason he should take the SAT that we are overlooking? A friend mentioned that she thinks some schools base scholarships on SAT scores only. Also, my husband thinks my son will not be able to participate in any National Merit Scholarships if he doesn’t take the SAT. Is that correct? We are concerned he may get a lower SAT score than the ACT 34 translates to on the SAT chart.
With an ACT score of 34, your son has little to gain by taking the SAT—or by taking the ACT again, for that matter. His current score won’t keep him out of schools and an even higher score, ACT or SAT, is not likely to increase his chances of getting in. The bottom line: his current ACT score puts him squarely on the competitive playing fields at most schools in the country. Now, the most critical factors will be his classroom performance and his ability to convey to colleges that he is someone they should want to admit. If he is valued for what he has to offer, he will be admitted.
Regarding scholarship eligibility, I have not seen evidence that the SAT is a requirement (instead of the ACT) for institutionally awarded scholarships. Your husband is correct, though, that your son will need to take the SAT in order to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. The College Board publishes “Requirements and Instructions for Semifinalists in the 2013 National Merit Scholarship Program” that fully describes the qualifying process.
I wonder if you have an opinion on summer plans? My son is potentially interested in majoring in Business. One suggestion is that he should get a summer job because kids wanting to study business or economics need work experience to understand the value of the dollar. We also hear about students participating in classroom experiences on college campuses. What are your thoughts on this?
I advise students to invest in themselves—to make summer plans as though college is not in the picture. In this case, your son should choose to engage in activities that are most meaningful and enriching to him. Admission officers are looking for authenticity in candidates and will be most impressed when students choose to use their summers productively. Work experiences certainly fit that category. And, if your son feels naturally drawn to a campus-based program because of the potential for personal enrichment, he should regard it as a viable option as well.
I would point out, however, that choosing to participate in a campus-based program should not be regarded as part of a strategy to get into the college in question. Such participation rarely improves the odds of admission.
My son is a prospective engineering student and has passed the AP Physics B course with relative ease. Is it necessary for him to take the AP Physics C course?
My guess is that engineering programs would like to see him continue to advance to the next logical level of rigor—and that could well be AP Physics C. This is actually a good question for him to ask of several of the engineering schools he might be considering.
When is the right time to apply for scholarships?
If you are asking about scholarships awarded by community organizations, don’t wait. The Junior Year is the best time to explore them. Students beginning to investigate community based scholarships at this point of the senior year will find that most competitions are closed to them.
If you are interested in scholarships awarded by colleges, you will need to apply for admission first in order to determine your eligibility. Should you present credentials that are highly desired, a given college might give you a scholarship to recognize your achievement and encourage you to enroll. That scholarship or, in many cases, need-based financial aid, should be awarded after you are accepted, but before you are expected to enroll.